MANILA, Philippines (AP) — An award-winning Philippine journalist who along with the online news service she heads has been sued for tax evasion has declared her innocence and was freed on bail Monday after turning herself in for arrest.
Maria Ressa, CEO of the Rappler website, said that taxes had been paid properly by her news service and the five tax charges were politically motivated. She was freed on 60,000 pesos ($1,150) bail on the one charge for which an arrest warrant has so far been issued.
Rappler has been critical of the government of President Rodrigo Duterte, who in turn has accused several independent media groups in the Philippines of biased reporting, including on his crackdown on illegal drugs that has left thousands of mostly urban poor dwellers dead and drawn condemnation by Western governments and U.N. bodies.
“We need to hold government to account, and part of the reason I’m here is precisely that,” Ressa said outside a Manila court. “I’m not a criminal, but I’ve been fingerprinted like a criminal. We feel that we did not get due process.”
Ressa, who has worked with CNN, was the winner of two prestigious journalism awards this year, a Press Freedom award from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, and the International Center for Journalists’ Knight International Journalism Award.
“I think the end goal of government is to try to make our team lose focus, affect morale, but in the end the mission of journalism, especially Rappler, has never been stronger,” she said. “We know we are doing something right, we know that what we are doing is critically important right now.”
Duterte had already banned a Rappler reporter from his news briefings after the government’s corporate watchdog found that the organization violated a constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership when it received money from an international investment firm. Rappler, founded in 2012, rejected the ruling.
The brash-talking Duterte accused Rappler last year of being owned by Americans in violation of the Philippine constitution and said the news outfit was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency. Rappler denied the allegations.
“Arresting Maria will send a clear signal that the country’s democracy is fast receding under a feckless administration that cannot abide criticism and free expression and will go to ridiculous lengths to muzzle all those is does not agree with,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said when news of the arrest warrant for Ressa was announced last week.